My fellow teacher, Paul Kristensen, actually came up with this awesome activity that I used today for Beowulf to help students understand the peculiarities of Anglo-Saxon society. Things like wergild, ring-giving, raiding, and harsh conditions are better experienced than delivered in a lecture.
Here’s the way it goes down (from Paul’s instructions):
A. “Elect” kings—At least two, three if you have more than 20 students. (I actually appointed my kings by choosing the first 3 people to accurately complete their grammar bellwork).
B. Count the number of students in the class. Allot 10 cents per student and give each “king” an equal number. Two kings and 15 students would equal 150 total coins. Each king would be given 75 coins.
C. Allow the kings to assemble a collection of “warriors” from the rest of the class (encourage a relatively equal distribution) through “ring-giving.” Inform the students that the “winners” will be the individuals with the most coins at the end of the game. While this sort of goes against Anglo-Saxon society (and the togetherness aspects), it’s necessary to make the mechanics of the game work properly.
II. Playing the game (The Kings’ Turn)
A. Each round each person must 5 cents for the cost of living through the year.
B. Kings determine what each “warrior” will do: Raid, Defend or Work
C. Raiders choose to raid other kings or outside settlements. Outside settlements yield 4 possibilities (1=death, 2-3=no gain, 4-5=5 cents or 6=15 cents). Raiding other kings yields half of that king’s wealth, or an encounter with a defender…
D. Defenders step between the king and any raiders, “fighting” the raider with opposed dice rolls. The loser of this battle “dies”, losing all wealth, half of which goes to the winner.
E. Workers yield 5 cents each.
III. Between Turns
A. The king has a 50% chance of being raided each round. Any warriors assigned to defend roll dice against the teacher, “dieing” if they lose. If there are no defenders the king and his thanes lose half of their wealth.
B. The king redistributes wealth to her warriors, and all “dead” warriors return to the pool, ready to be recruited again via “ring-giving.”
C. Eventually, allow kings to send raiders to target other kings, and thus work in wergild (a thane who kills a defending player can be specifically targetted as part of a blood feud in the next round, unless he pays for the deceased thane).
D. If the group is losing too much money to raiders or deaths, feel free to have the king receive extra wealth from his other subjects.
The dice on my Smartboard made the rolling aspect of the game even more fun for the students as they were able to all watch the “battles” unfold on the board. I think this game effectively teaches many of the cultural concepts students will encounter in Beowulf. In addition, the students really get a feeling of just how harsh the conditions were and how much luck (the dice) is involved in the success or failure of their tribe.